Anemia is a condition occurring due to deficiency of iron in the blood. Most Indian women and children are affected by anemia. Therefore, implementing effective public health and nutrition programs can help in reducing the burden of anemia in India.
Improved public health and nutrition programmes for children under five years of age, and higher education and wealth among expectant mothers substantially contributed to lowering anemia among these two groups between 2006 and 2016, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said.
‘More than half of the population of women and children in India is anemic. Therefore, implementing improved public health and nutrition programs can help in reducing the burden of anemia in India.’
Anemia reduction among teenage girls and women under 50 years, however, showed minimal progress.
"More than half of the population of women and children in India is anemic and is, therefore, currently experiencing reduced quality of life in various respects such as work capacity, fatigue, cognitive function, birth outcomes, and child development," said Phuong Hong Nguyen, lead author, and IFPRI researcher.
"In addition to describing the problem, showing slow improvements, and showing high variability between different states, our paper identifies drivers of anemia from a broad set of potential drivers at various levels," Nguyen added.
The study, "Trends and drivers of change in the prevalence of anemia among one million women and children in India, 2006-2016", co-authored by IFPRI's Samuel Scott, Rasmi Avula, and Purnima Menon; and FHI360's Lan Mai Tran, was published recently in BMJ Global Health journal.
Using data from two rounds of the National Family Health Survey conducted in 2005-06 and the latest one in 2015-16, the researchers examined changes in hemoglobin and anemia among a million women and children in India, and to identify key factors contributing to lowering anemia prevalence in the country.
Among various drivers, positive changes in mothers' education, coverage of nutrition and health interventions, socioeconomic status, sanitation and meat, and fish consumption contributed to an improvement in the hemoglobin count -- low hemoglobin count indicates anemia -- among both children and pregnant women during 2006-16.
Better education alone accounted for nearly one-fourth of the improvement seen in the hemoglobin count among expectant mothers, and one-tenth in children.
"Further improvements in these common drivers can substantially impact maternal and child anemia, simultaneously bringing down anemia prevalence across the country in these two groups," said Nguyen.
Hemoglobin and anemia improved significantly among children less than five years, and pregnant women 15-49 years old, but not in the non-pregnant women in the same age group between 2006 and 2016.
Anaemia declined by 11 percentage points among children (70 percent in 2006 to 59 percent in 2016), 7.6 percentage points among expectant mothers (58 percent to 50.4 percent), and a mere 2.1 percentage points in teenage girls and women under 50 (55 percent to 52.9 percent).
"It's surprising that no progress has been made in reducing anemia among non-pregnant adult women in India in the last decade. Most programmes have not focused on this group but, instead, have focused on pregnant women and young children," Scott said.
India's recently launched Anaemia Mukt Bharat initiative puts the focus on women of reproductive age (20-49 years), who will start receiving weekly iron-folic acid supplementation, which supports the finding on the need to attend to this population segment.
In addition, the Centre has mandated the fortification of salt with iodine and iron, and wheat flour with iron, folic acid, and Vitamin B-12.